A year ago, six-year-old K.J. Ferguson wanted to become a bricklayer.
“Now that he’s playing hockey, that’s out the window,” said his grandmother, Ruth Usick. “Now his goal is to play for the Calgary Flames.”
Ferguson isn’t quite ready for the NHL draft just yet, but his skating is improving and he’s having a great time learning the game with his mini team.
K.J.’s hockey debut was made possible by the Friends of Hockey, a new community fund to help minor hockey players who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate.
After K.J.’s mother, Valerie Ferguson, was killed in April 2008, there was a huge outpouring of community support for her two children. Bob Waters, one of the founders of Friends of Hockey, knew K.J. wanted to play and decided to make it happen.
“I asked a coach of a team just a little bit older than him if they would help, and within one day, we had more than enough equipment for the boy.”
Then staff at PIB Insurance got wind of what was going on and outfitted K.J. head to toe with new equipment. K.J. was so delighted with his new gear that he wore it to bed that night, helmet and all.
“When I found out what it cost to register a child in hockey, I was floored,” Usick said. “I just sat down and cried my eyes out, because I thought, what a wonderful thing they were doing. We are just overwhelmed at the support that we’ve got.”
Long an informal undertaking, Friends of Hockey took on an official face last fall, the brainchild of Waters, Jake Radcliffe and Mark Fackoury. Along with having kids who play hockey, all three men have strong ties to minor hockey in Woolwich: Radcliffe is president of the Woolwich Minor Hockey Association, Waters is a past-president, and Fackoury is on the executive and coaches the Midget AA rep team.
Radcliffe’s goal for the group is to reach out to boys and girls who otherwise can’t afford the equipment or registration fees, to make it possible for them to play. They can be kids who would like to start or kids already in minor hockey whose families have run into financial difficulties.
“We can see that in an economic downturn there will be families where the dad or the mom just don’t have as much income and we want to make sure that their kids either have the opportunity to play hockey or can continue to play hockey,” Waters said.
So far the fund has helped six young players with equipment and registration fees.
The Dan Snyder Memorial Foundation made a cash contribution to get Friends of Hockey started. An anonymous businessman made another contribution, an NHL player committed to provide equipment, and they’ve received a memorial donation.
“This thing started to spread without any advertising,” Waters said. “We’re kind of surprised at the way it’s taken off.”
Friends of Hockey is based on a model used to help Mark Noot, the Winterbourne man who was stricken in the meningitis outbreak in Waterloo Region 10 years ago. People in the region started a fund for him that raised around $130,000.
Waters said they’re keeping the organization simple, to cut down on bureaucracy and protect the privacy of the families who need help.
“It’s absolutely sensitive,” Waters said. “I don’t even know the names of the people who’ve been helped, it’s screened that well.”
Anyone who needs assistance can contact Friends of Hockey by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, briefly outlining the circumstances and the assistance required.
During the Hockeyville marathon earlier this month, Usick sat in the crowded stands and watched K.J. and his team skate onto the ice under an archway of hockey sticks held by the Elmira Sugar Kings, a moment that was both proud and sad.
Usick said their daughter Valerie was into baseball, but with K.J. playing, they’re getting a taste of being hockey parents.
“I laughed at his papa … I said, ‘there, you missed out on having a son and going early mornings to a cold arena, and here you are.’”